14 April 2000

Rodgers keen to try again

By Alistair Driver

THE politician who gave farmers a glimmer of hope during a brief spell as Northern Irelands farm minister fears she may never get the chance to take office again. Brid Rodgers, of the republican Social Democratic and Labour Party, received widespread praise earlier this year for her 10-week stint in charge of agriculture at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Her time as farm minister came to an end with the suspension of the power sharing executive on February 11. Now, almost exactly two years to the day after the Good Friday agreement, Ms Rodgers said she would relish another crack at the job.

But political stalemate means the prospect of business resuming at Stormont is "looking glum at the moment" as people on both sides of the divide dig their heels over their vision of the future, she added. "Its an awful pity because ministers in all portfolios were getting into it and there was a strong feeling across both sections of the community of an ownership and accessibility they had not had for 30 years. Suddenly it was all taken away."

Farmers in an industry dominated by people with unionist backgrounds had responded very positively, said Ms Rodgers, even though she is considered by some people to be a hardline nationalist. She added: "There was no animosity – they were glad to be working with me as they recognised the common interest."

Ulster Farmers Union president Will Taylor said of the woman who had no previous experience of farming: "She was 100% focused on farming and was very willing to learn." The role she performed, he added, gave the previously under-represented industry a voice and influence it had not enjoyed before. "Devolution brings accountability, which really has not happened under direct rule when ministers are responsible for a number of portfolios."

Ms Rodgers said her biggest achievement was pushing forward the issue of granting special status for Northern Ireland beef exporters who have not experienced BSE to the same extent as their British counterparts. She raised the issue personally with Tony Blair, who announced at last months farm summit that the government will now raise the matter with the European Commission. &#42

Brid Rodgers would relish another chance to become a farm minister.